I have wanted to come to Swaziland ever since I could remember, so far back I must have been in my early school days ,I can still see those wonderful dressed Zulu warriors their beautiful beaded garments as I turned those pages of those ancient National Geographic magazines while completing my detention in the school library…….Those detention lines still firmly stuck in my mind……………………I must not play the fool in Mr Koch class….I must not play the fool in Mr Koch class a 100 times or more …….as I watched my class mates play outside!!!!.
WE ARRIVE AT THE SWAZI BORDER MAHAMBA FROM SOUTH AFRICA
Victor squeaks and rattles up to the immigration building on the exit from South African border near Mahamba in Swaziland; it’s just before twelve midday, not the best time to arrive at a border…..is it their lunch break as we spot a queue.
Elayne gathers up Victors documents hands them to me with our passports as I try and find the officials to stamp us out of S/A. The border post is very quite and clean even the public toilets were usable, just the local hornbills with their big long beaks squawking away in a nearby avocado tree.
It is a beautiful sunny day with brilliant blue skies the Swazi hills lay before us the dry season is here winter but it is late the summer rains had persisted and the hills are still green. A cool breeze blows from the south but we are warm, an almost perfect temp around 22c.
I can see small thatched round house scattered in the distance set amongst green and brown fields with red dusty tracks zig sagging across the hillside.
Thin whispers of smoke rise from the small thatched homes, my school boy memories come flooding back those old National Geographic magazines and Zulu warriors now a real possibility.
I join a queue of wonderful black smiling Swazi faces all greeting me with that inquisitive look in their eyes……….where do you come from I was asked by a well dressed young man in his mid 20’s. The queue of 25 plus people all different shapes and sizes and gender looked on intently silently waiting for my reply.
Where do you come from? I asked the young well dressed man….Swaziland Mbabane he replied …we are all from Swaziland we are returning home.
You are the first Swazi people I have meet on our travels it is nice to meet you all…….They all smiled even more and seemed to be proud of the fact they were the first Swazi people this strange foreigner had meet.
We are from Australia… (Answering the initial question) the Southern Part called Melbourne …….I replied…….pointing to Elayne sitting on Victor’s fuel tank…there is my wife.
There was an instant chuckle from the queue the younger girls covering their mouths and really laughing as their eyes and faces smiled as I looked at them chuckling away their beautiful white teeth and brown eyes and platted hair.
In that car the young man pointing to Victor and Elayne.
Yes all the way from Australia in that car, all the way we hope to Swaziland.
It’s not very far the young man replied hastily, as if to tell us we have nearly made our journeys end…Swaziland is just there across the border as he points to those patch work hills and small thatched homes in the distance……its not far for you to go.
Thank you I replied we will look forward to visiting Swaziland I have wanted to come here for many years.
You and your wife will be most welcome the young man replies…..may I take a picture of you and your wife and your car I have never seen a car like that before.
Yes I reply you are most welcome to take a picture.
We are finally processed by the South African Customs and the young Swazi man asks us to pose’s next to Victor, he is delighted we take some pictures with his mobile phone camera while he poses very proudly on Victors fuel tank, poor old Victor not looking as smart as the young Swazi man, POOR OLD Victor I thought.
We wave our farewells to South Africa and drive across the South African check point into Swaziland.
We are kindly directed by the Swazi officials to park Victor outside a small brick building to get our Swaziland entry stamps and customs documents cleared for Victor.
A small crowd soon gather’s around Victor as he takes centre stage yet again, I stand guard half in the door and half out of the immigration / customs building trying to keep an eye on Victor as Elayne takes our paperwork and passports to be stamped.
The room is small with a wooden counter and small desks behind; Elayne approaches a small glass window with our documents there is no queue.
How long would you like to stay in Swaziland the young Swazi immigration official asks from behind the small glass window……how long can we have Elayne replies……Would you like a month in Swaziland…Yes that would be fine Elayne replies the young official stamps our passports and gathers up some brochures from around the small office and offers them to us.
This is a poor country she tells us and if you can pass these brochures on to your friends in Australia we would be very happy.
What a contrast we both thought what a pleasure to have customs and immigration officials being so polite and helpful we could only wish all border post were like this.
We will do our best to make good use of them and try our best to pass them on to others…thank you the young official replies have a great stay in Swaziland there is lots to see and the people are very friendly.
Elayne and I thank the Swazi officials but we could not leave before all the important people had left there desk and come outside to see Victor this homemade car from Australia.
My I take a photograph …I ask the Customs and immigration officials….Yes they reply …no problems take as many as you would like.
I snap of a few shots of the Swazi flag and surrounding customs officials.
Do we need to stamp our Carnet de passage I ask one customs official…….No ….no problem you will only need to stamp this document when you leave South Africa.
Thank you I reply it was a pleasure to cross at this friendly border into Swaziland.
As we have planned to see some friends near the Kruger National Park we will be re entering South Africa form Swaziland on the way to Mozambique so will need to stamp out before we enter Mozambique.
WE wave our good buys and head to Manzini some 135klm north from our position hoping to find a friend John Thomson we briefly meet at the Adenco 400 off road race in Cape Town several months earlier. John Thomson loves his off road racing and attended the Adenco 400 in Cape Town. You really have to be mad to tow you’re off road car all the way from Swaziland to Cape Town and back but that’s off road racing when it gets into your blood I guess.
We only just meet John Thomson because of Bez Bezedenhout our wonderful host in Cape Town who sponsors the Adenco 400 at Darling (our Cape Town adventure coming soon). Bez had looked after us and knew John through his electrical company Adenco and the great passion they both shared with the off road racing scene. John was also an electrical contractor who operates his business in Swaziland, Bez thinking John would be a good person to meet as we ventured north into Africa someone who knew about the earlier off road racing cars ( which Victor claims some heritage) and may have some contacts if you needed any parts.
This proved to be an invaluable meeting one we will not forget.
The road is general good and Victor settles down dogging a few potholes as we make good progress towards Manzinz
The welcome into Swaziland was a fantastic, waving, whistling, flashing lights and beaming smiles from inquisitive motorist and pedestrians.
Where are you from they call out……. as an overloaded Chinese taxi bus pulls along side both passenger’s and drive trying to ask as many question as they could ….Australia we reply ….the constant inquisitiveness keeping my nerves at the steering wheel a little on edge as we negotiate S bends two abreast dodging potholes in tandem the inquisitive onlookers weaving all over the road.
Welcome to Swaziland the passengers call out….welcome…. finally parting with their horn blowing and arms waving.
We wave and they wave back, the overload Chinese taxi bus disappears out off sight as I re check my rear view mirrors for another inquisitive overloaded taxi bus to draw alongside.
It is a never ending precession as another overload taxi bus pulls alongside the passengers peer in like we are some mobile zoo the occupants laughing and waving away as we smile and wave back it is a constant theme kilometre after kilometre heading towards Manzini.
Wave to anybody in Swaziland and you will get an instant wave it doesn’t matter if they are a building gang, road workers, truck drivers, policeman, ( yes even they wave back) farm workers who have spotted you way before you have spotted them children walking alongside the road returning home from school
They will smile and wave back.
It was a real pleasure to see the school children returning home their smart colourful school uniforms arm in arm the little girls and boys wondering back to there villages. The progression of little ones and then old children and older again they all wave and smile.
The countryside was undulating hills a rural lifestyle as we dodge those famous cows with those huge horns wondering across the road the shepherded boys herding them along the edge of the road looking for feed.
They do look beautiful and are a real Swazi icon.
Sidvokodvo …10 klm Elayne calls out a rather bent sign post we are not far from Manzini around 30 klm. It is getting on in the afternoon and not sure how big this place is we hope we can find John Thomson’s business premises in the centre of town. Elayne pulls out John’s business card Mormond Electrical Contractors Villiers Street Manzini.
We enter the city trying to hide alongside a large truck as we can see a several police stopping vehicles pulling them over to inspect their documents.
Our plan works and we escape the scrutiny of the city police but you could see their disappointment when we slipped by one policeman nearly falling over as one of his colleagues pointed out Victor sneaking past across the traffic lights …. they wave franticly trying to get our attention for us to stop…..but all to late…we escape across the traffic lights ignoring there pleas.
We stop in the centre of town and it is only a matter of seconds and we are swamped by onlookers….Elayne is worried we have over 50 people around Victor under Victor and almost in Victor.
What is this animal on the back of your car ……. an Armadillo? …I reply…..50 plus people swarm to the rear trying to see this new creature.
I wanted to find my Swaziland sticker or number plate and a young man offers his help to try and find a shop which can help.
It is not far away he replies I am sure we can find you a Swazi flag for your car. I leave Elayne with the marauding crowd which is getting bigger bye the second.
We find a small shop next to a petrol station which has a Swazi flag sticker a deal is made and 5 emalangeni later less than one Australian dollar I rush back to Elayne. The police are also there and I feel slightly at ease as they to have joined the crowd.
Elayne is answering all those motoring questions with no problems, she has all the answers and the crowd is impressed with her motoring knowledge. Mind you she has had a lot of training from me over the last 4 years……but I still can’t cook mmmmh???
The crowd becomes ever more inquisitive as I clean a small spot on Victor’s bonnet and the crowd looks on intently as I stick the Swazi flag almost centre
Swazi Smiles all around the gathered crowd is pleased their small country has become part of our long trip around the world.
We ask for direction to Mormond electrical contractors and everybody knows where John Thomson and his office Mormond electrical contractors is and luckily we are only a few blocks away, it is a relief to us to find out we are that close, finding a camp spot was getting a little thin as time was getting on and it was already close to 5.00 pm.
Weaving our way through a one way road system we eventually find John’s office.
It was a 3 storey building all occupied by John and his electrical contracting business close to the centre of town with a large gated area at the rear which housed many vehicles for his business.
Victor rattles to a rest and we pull outside of the office, hoping John is around and not off on some race at the other end of the country. The security guard asks us if he can help and we ask direction to the reception. The security guard points the way and we soon arrive at the reception area.
Is it possible to see John Thomson I ask…. yes she said…..he will be arriving soon …you are the Australian couple we have been expecting you ,John has told us all about your trip.
Would you like some tea while you wait…the receptionist asks…….That will be great …2 black no sugar or milk… I reply…..I will send it downstairs the receptionist replies as I thank her once again and disappear downstairs to let Elayne know John is around.
It was great to get the information John was still in town and we felt a little better knowing he was around.
It’s not long and John’s white Toyota land cruiser arrived at a rapid rate of knots pulling alongside Victor.
Welcome to Manzini Swaziland…. John calls out from the land cruiser are you both ok ….yes we reply….. How was the border which way did you come into Swaziland…….I quickly checked the map and called out Mahamba.
Well done John replies just wait here I need to finish off some work and will be back shortly. The white Toyota speeds off into the city centre. John’s eye’s smile he is around 45 with that pure Scot ancestry, a great beaming smile, short hair, and an infectious laugh.
A tough lad I thought creating the biggest electrical contracting business in Swaziland and one of the largest security companies with well over a thousand employees’.
The light is fading and we face the prospect of driving at night not something we look forward to trying to follow John out of a city centre. Manzini is not a large city so we hope it will not be so bad following John home.
We are not sure where John and his family live maybe they are in town Elayne remarks, we will just have to wait and see I reply.
It is gone 5.30pm and John arrives back at the office….would you like a quick look round the office….sure I reply…..John introduces us to Peggy (John’s sectary) and Clinton his 2nd in command … Plus mosses and Rafic (people we came to know well, always willing to help us in any way they could we will miss them all)
Let’s go I will keep an eye out for you we live about 33klm from the centre of town it usually takes me less than 40 minutes to arrive home.
YIKES 33 klm in forty minutes something only Victor and his motley crew could only dream of not knowing the road and the fading light…yikes we will have to put the foot down.
I follow John out into the evening rush hour as people head out of town for home; the temperature is dropping the cool evening air descending like a blanket across the mayhem of exiting people running to make it home.
Our plastic windows are up giving us the best vision in the fading light trying to dodge the still inquisitive overloaded taxi’s heading out of Manzini.
Keep up…..Elayne exclaims….. We will loose John in the chaotic traffic, but that was not going to be an easy task keeping up with John’s usual home going pace in a new Toyota Land cruiser …Victor would need a few more cylinders….It is not a large city by any mean’s but the roads are just full of bellowing smoking overloaded trucks full to the gunwales with sugar cane and every other conceivable collection of stuff passengers clinging to any possible free space the trucks have.
Leave any gap for braking distance or if you’re to slow pulling away someone or some two will squeeze into that gap instantly causing you to stand on the brake pedal and wave my arms in frustration …only to be greeted with big smiles and waving arms as if everything is just fine.
Luckily for us John is keeping a good eye on our progress and we soon leave the thick diesel fumes from the endless shapes and sizes of Swazi taxi’s, busses and old trucks once again enjoying the rural valley farms fading from vision in the evening light.
John pulls over and jumps out of the Toyota…..aren’t you two cold ( our plastic windows still rolled up)….its not to bad I reply…how far is it I ask….Well John replies can you see that light in the distance.
I stare outside into the now darkness the stars are out twinkling the moon is rising across the pineapple fields and the rustle of dried sugar cane leaves sounds like someone eating crisps in your ear.
No sorry John I can’t see what you are trying to point out.
Look up there …you see that mountain ….yes I reply the shadowy outline of a mountain is clearly defined the evening light making that contrast the mountain is black the outline jagged and it looks high.
Yes I see that mountain…..Can you see that light just to the right…….I can see a small light set at the very peak of that black mountain outline twinkling like a lone star.
I can see a small light …….Yes John replies that’s our house….its all dirt road from here really this is the beginning of our drive way.
I sink back into Victor as John jumps back into his warm Toyota with its heated seats and disappears into the night the red dust spiralling like a huge vortex as thick as fog the red dust bellows from the pounding Toyotas wheels.
I try and keep some distance not wanting to breath all that red dust our windows still up we inevitable sur come to consuming the gritty red coloured atmosphere.
How far Elayne asks….. About 13 more klm I reply its Johns driveway the family home is on top of the mountain.
Victor starts to protest the now mountain track becomes ever more steeper and I am down to first gear grinding away, John is out of sight only catching his brilliant white headlights piercing the pine forest plantations as he negotiates the winding mountain track spiralling ever higher the dust glows as John brakes flash on and off.
Look Elayne cries out…..2 small buck almost clear the mountain track in one bound….yes I saw them….look Elayne cries out again did you see that huge owl….His wings cut across Victors little headlights his wing span is huge as the owl safely finds another look out to land.
Not one but five owls we see along the mountain track swooping across in front of our lights.
Victor has no chance in keeping up with John the Toyota has more power than a jumbo jet, we lag behind ….Only to see John up ahead waiting for us.
Are you all ok John asks……..Yes I reply…. sorry can’t quite keep up with the Toyota…..John laugh’s its the longest I have ever taken to climb to the top….but as long as you are ok……not far to go now John replies just a few more kilometres and we will be at the top?
Great we will do our best getting up the rest of the track…as I sink back into Victor.
Did you see those Owls Elayne asks John…..I usually spot 5-7 every night I return home plus a jackal family John replies you might see them later.
The pine forest is all around us dropping to our left we can see the distant lights from whence we came, the valley floor covered in mist…but it’s clear up here around 1200mts and silent.
The bustle of the city some 30 kilometres back has disappeared it’s another world here surrounded by 77,000 hectares of green breathing trees and glistening stars and a huge moon rising across the valley floor.
Victor climbs the last few kilometres and we finally spot John waiting once again at the entrance to his home.
Elayne spots the sign to the property ……QWABITI……..
We turn down a bitumen entrance from the mountain track everything falls silent the rocky track left behind Victors wheels silently roll along the flat driveway. Tall trees flank either side of the beautifully manicured lawn large natural rocks and beautiful flowering bushes draw us in…..WOW this is just stunning we are just in awe. John’s Toyota lights light up the main entrance gates, they silently swing open and to the right a guard stands next to his guard house and welcomes us in. The gates slowly close behind us as we try and take in the silhouetted trees ….WOW look at the size of those Oak trees their branches hanging over the driveway, it really is another world as I glance at the gps and see we are around 1360mts above sea level.
This garden is stunning even in the moonlight the different plants are huge the colour and variety immense, this garden is sixty years old at least I thought.
The drive way is a huge oval, we slowly drive in I am still captivated by the beautiful old deciduous and conifers of all types some 20-30 metres in height.
I count 35 topiary bushes flanking the far edge of that oval driveway, the huge old house open’s up as we approach.
Something straight out of a Scottish Country Estate we struggle to think we are in Swaziland and not somewhere in Scotland from whence John’s ancestry flourished…
Two old golden Labradors (Tandy and Toby) with Suzie the Jack Russell bark and run alongside Victor wagging their tails welcoming this strange smelling vehicle.
John is waiting outside the house with his family what a welcome we thought as John introduces us to Sarah Jane (john’s wife) St John who is 8 years old, and Joel Jessica around 6 going on 16 as we find out soon enough ( a wonderful enthusiastic little girl we full in love with both of them and miss them dearly)
Bring in your stuff S/J exclaims come in and have a hot shower I’m sure you would like to have a shower before supper.
We stop outside a paved entrance with old hibiscus bushes still in bloom; the windows are large with small pains of glass with draped curtains. It all feels so homely and warm set amongst the brickwork. The old wooden doorway open’s up to a wonderful old open beamed ceiling and log fire place.
That sounds wonderful …I reply to John….we both nod in agreement a hot shower and a bedroom with walls that do not move with the wind like our old tent sounds a refreshing change.
Sara Jane has invited the Head Master of Usutu the local Primary school for supper David Jenkins a great guy who listens on to our inevitable travel stories with much interest after a wonderful chicken supper.
It was a great supper indeed and Elayne crashed into our bedroom… clean….full as a boot ….and well and truly exhausted.
The house was the old mill managers lodge its location truly amazing set high on top of a mountain looking towards the Lebomboberg Mountains in the distance bordering Mozambique to the East, the West looking towards Lundzi border with South Africa.
It was a fantastic location the morning sun luring me to explore the East side of the house. Words would hardly do the view justice……I am stunned by what greets me. The morning air is fresh and still as I walk outside I am greeted by the gardeners working ….my SiSwati is no existent but a good morning Sir is clearly understood by me.
The house is perched high on a mountain ridge the natural rocks cementing the foundations to the edge like huge anchors. Beautiful natural indigenes bush grow along the mountain ridge right up to the house , large aloes blazing red are set amongst the rocks clusters of red flowers pointing skyward, large ferns like pampas grass their white heads sway , huge green monster type plants which I think we called elephants ears are scattered along the edge of the house all set in a natural rock garden, the honey eaters are buzzing around drinking the early morning nectar. Emerald green with large hooked beaks they buzz around from bush to bush. Not one species but 4-5 different birds inches away sit and bask in the early red glow of the rising sun.
The view is out of this world I can see a hundred kilometres at the very least the other mountains are just lower we stand above them alone, the entire horizon stretching just a mesmerising landscape.
The sun is instantly warming as it appears bursting onto Qwabiti ….all is glowing orange red the mountain landscape changing by the minute.
The swimming pool looks as if the edge of the pool runs into infinity the mountain sloop steep dropping sharply towards the valley floor to the east. Set amongst huge green elephant plants and white and red flowering bushes the swimming pool is just inviting.
I calculate the valley floor is some 600mtrs below us, I feel as if I am floating in the sky as 2 Eagles appear soaring gentle in a soft breeze, I can nearly touch them hovering at the same height … they look at me their heads turning from side to side …. Suzie the Jack Russell appears barking away trying to scare the eagles off.
They take no notice and carry on their search below…. I think Suzie could be on the menu if she is not careful.
John calls out breakfast is ready Chris…..thanks I reply as I catch John’s smiling face….It’s just too wonderful out here.
QWABITI………….a place we will always remember…….to be continued……………